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Arie Lavy (left) - former Israeli POW who now lives in Winnipeg, but suffers from PTSD and George Leonard, expert at training companion therapy dogs

By BERNIE BELLAN
Arie Lavy is a former Israeli who was a Prisoner of War in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War. Arie was captured by Egyptians at the Suez Canal and for 42 days he was held prisoner and subjected to periodic torture.
As a result of that experience, Arie now suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

 

 

 

PTSD is quite widespread among Israeli veterans. According to information provided by Arie to us, “There are 4,649 IDF veterans identified as PTSD sufferers currently served by the Rehabilitation Department of the Defense Ministry. About half receive compensation and a subsistence allowance in accordance with their recognized disability.
“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a medically recognized condition which prevents sufferers from full participation in society. There are many traumatic events that can result in PTSD, and individual responses to trauma vary with each person. What many sufferers have in common is a panic response to a trigger that reminds the sufferer of the traumatic event. Common reactions to triggers include sleep disturbances and insomnia, racing heartrates, profuse sweating, explosive angry outbursts, increased cortisol and adrenaline levels, flashbacks, auditory and visual hallucinations. PTSD is a condition that affects the individual and their family, and is a significant factor in depression, failed relationships, and homelessness. Efforts to avoid triggers can result in social isolation, unemployment or underemployment, and a markedly decreased quality of life.
“Despite the recognition of PTSD as a bona fide mental health condition prevalent among military veterans and their families, there are few therapies for sufferers other than psychological counselling and medication to help them cope with daily living. The past decade has seen a new therapy gain acceptance, and that is the use of service animals – service dogs in particular.
“In recent years, medical use of service dogs has gained momentum due to the many benefits of interacting with and raising a dog.”

Arie Lavy himself can attest to the benefits of having a therapy dog. His own dog, which he bought in 2016 and whose name is “Shmuley”, is a “Hungarian Puli” (a breed that is known for its fur looking like dreadlocks). Shmuley accompanies Arie everywhere – and, as anyone who knows Arie at all well, his dog has proven to be of immense benefit to him.
Now, in pursuit of the goal of providing similar relief to other Israeli veterans suffering from PTSD, Arie has launched an ambitious campaign to have companion therapy dogs trained in Israel under a program titled “Courageous Companions Israel”.
While Israel is well known for its program for training search and rescue dogs – which are often transported to disaster scenes throughout the world to help search for individuals who might be trapped as a result of earthquakes or other similar disasters, it does not yet have an established program for providing the highly specialized training that goes into training companion therapy dogs.
There is a school in Israel known as DogSchoolIsrael, located on Moshav Petahia, that does provide training for service dogs, which can help individuals who are disabled. There are some 40 service dogs now working in Israel and the same types of dogs can be trained to serve as companion therapy dogs, but that training – which must be done with the eventual dog owner and dog together, involves 12 months of rigorous education.
As a result of his own experience in seeing the benefits that can accrue from having a companion therapy dog, Arie Lavy decided to pursue the possibility of establishing a program in Israel where companion dogs can be trained to live with IDF veterans suffering from PTSD.

This is where a local organization known as “MSAR” steps in. MSAR stands for “Meghan Search and Rescue”. (Meghan means “wolf” in Cree.)
MSAR was created by an individual by the name of George Leonard, who had years of experience as a First Nations Band Constable. It was in that line of work that, as George explains on his Facebook page, “I got into SAR / Band Constable as the demand rose for assistance in finding our missing, murdered Aboriginal people and those who have simply disappeared, at a time when there was no spotlight on the Indian Residential experience or the countless missing men and women from the Aboriginal communities.”
One of the key figures in the development of MSAR, according to George, was the late Elijah Harper. But, finding support for the development of a program to train search and rescue dogs in Canada was difficult.
Again, in George’s words, “We received no support, actually to be blunt – complete resistance, road blocks and threats by government agencies, to stop doing what we were doing. We were persistent and slowly over the past decade have taken control of our own communities and services for finding people who are missing – however, in the beginning, it was extremely difficult, because not only did you have the pressure of locating a person but the condescending eyes and treatment and pressure of government officials to fail.”

But, as word of MSAR’s success in training, not only search and rescue dogs, but service dogs for disabled individuals – either physically or mentally, Arie Lavy made contact with George Leonard and began to discuss the possibility of organizing a program that could lead to the training of companion therapy dogs for Israeli veterans suffering from PTSD.

Arie called this program “Courageous Companions Israel”. (In Canada the program is known simply as “Courageous Companions”.) He began enlisting support for the program and eventually developed a full-scale business plan.
This is where an individual by the name of Dudik Mazor comes into the picture. Dudik is the chief instructor at “DogSchool Israel” – a facility that trains dogs as service animals and for therapy.
Arie Lavy contacted Dudik and asked him if he would be interested in coming to Winnipeg to meet George Leonard and other individuals from MSAR. The purpose of the meeting would be to discuss the possibility of George going to Israel himself to train IDF veterans suffering from PTSD how they themselves could learn how to work with a dog as a means of dealing with their PTSD.
In turn, those veterans taking the course under George’s stewardship would themselves become qualified instructors able to instruct other veterans in the training of “therapy dogs”.
The course would be 12 months long. Here is how material provided by Arie Lavy describes what the course would entail: “The year-long course will include twice weekly instruction conducted at DogSchool Israel, a registered training facility that will work with Courageous Companions Israel. Participants must therefore be active and be prepared to leave their homes, i.e. be prepared to meet the objective of reducing their seclusion from society. Each participant will learn to connect with their assigned dog through practice and repetition under expert supervision. The course will take place in a safe framework for military vets dealing with PTSD under the supervision of a team experienced in working with this population. Each student will receive a personalized treatment plan prepared in advance, which he will learn to execute over the duration of the course.”

If Arie’s proposal for Courageous Companions Israel takes off, George Leonard would himself travel to Israel to help set up the program and be there for the first and last months of the program.

(l-r): K9 Bob, Furman, Bruno - Israeli service dogs who will now be teamed up with disabled individuals here

When Dudik Mazor came to Winnipeg for three days to meet with George and others from MASR, from October 3-6, he brought with him three dogs that had been trained in Israel as service dogs. Those dogs, whose names by the way are: K9 Bob, Furman, and Bruno, will now remain in Canada, where MSAR will train each dog to work with a physically disabled individual who will become that dog’s owner. (Interestingly, the dogs are now trained to respond to Hebrew commands. As part of the training process, the dogs will be taught English commands. I was thinking: “Wouldn’t it be easier to teach their new owners Hebrew?”)
According to Dudik, his bringing three already trained dogs to Winnipeg will be considered part payment to MSAR for the training that George Leonard will provide in Israel, should Arie Lavy’s proposal be accepted.
Of course, that brings up the question of expense. According to material provided by Arie Lavy, the cost of initiating this project in the first year will be $36,000 per dog. Arie’s material notes that “there are 20 puppies being trained and readied for matching with a veteran in the next 4-6 months,” so the proposal is well on its way into becoming a practical reality.

Plans are also forging ahead to create a website and crowdfunding page for Courageous Companions Israel.
In the meantime, if you would like to know more about how you can help Arie Lavy help get this ambitious program to help Israeli veterans suffering from PTSD get off the ground, you can contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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